Google is adding a new ranking factor into its search algorithm that is causing some concern, especially amongst those involved in the online intellectual property and copyright debate. The search engine’s algorithm will soon take into account the number of ‘valid’ (as determined by Google) copyright removal notices when determining a site’s ranking. For an SEO company or anyone involved in SEO services, this is definitely a development to watch.

In essence, if a site has been the target of several complaints regarding content that is thought to be infringing on a copyright holder’s rights, Google will rank it lower in its search results. Besides the uneasy feelings created by the opaqueness and pervasiveness of Google’s movements, there are a couple of potential results of this that are raising concern.

  1. The so called ‘false positives’ problem. Since these complaints against a site are handled without recourse to law or other neutral standards, and require no real burden of proof, there will inevitably be content that is taken down that in reality was not infringing on any copyright. However, since Google acts unilaterally in response to complaints, many sites with user generated content will be unfairly punished by this new algorithm change, even if the content is later cleared and allowed to be posted.
  2. ‘Accused’ sites will have recourse to counter claims or rectify misinformed accusations against them with Google. Their demotion in search results will be completely out of their control and affected in this case by potentially false infringement complaints.

This will potentially have a negative impact on the online content landscape in that sites will be much more timid in dealing with content that is primarily user generated, and fair use claims will not receive the benefit of the doubt. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this will cause, but as always the Blue Hat SEO services team is monitoring these developments closely.